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This 'Old' Store (Part II)

Paul Partyka |

CHICAGO — Have you heard of spring cleaning? Fall is also a great time to spruce up your coin laundry. The weather is changing, why not make some changes to your store? The good thing is that many changes don’t require you to reach deep into your pocket.Part two of this story contains more distributor-supplied tips on how you can impress customers — and improve the bottom line.ATTENTION TO DETAIL“The stores are poor in my area, with some exceptions,” says Bill Davis, Laundry City Equipment, Fort Wayne, Ind. “Most of them, other than the new ones, generally need some paint, new ceiling tile, need to change the light fixtures and need to get the windows washed. Why don’t they improve? I can’t tell you why”Overall cleanliness is a big selling point with Davis. He believes owners can improve the store image simply by wiping the machines clean and keeping the floor clean.“I believe that if you pay attention to detail, you can be successful in business.” With this in mind, Davis says the exterior of the building cannot be ignored.“The outside of the building invites people in. A person with a choice will pick the store that looks the best from the outside.”Signage, he adds, is important because it lets the people know who you are and where you are. “The name on the sign isn’t as important as just letting people know that you operate a coin laundry. The ‘coin laundry’ part of the sign needs to be more prominent.”Davis offers this design tip: “When it comes to the interior look, white is symbolic as clean. White for reflection is important.”COMFORT COUNTS“Owners fall into two categories,” says Stephen Bean, Universal Coin Laundry Machinery, Royal Oak, Mich. “You have creative owners with a sense of marketing. They are sensitive to people’s perceptions, and tend to make their laundries more attractive and upscale. They have bright stores with nice amenities.“Then you have the owners who don’t care about these things. They simply have a building full of machines. Their floor may be clean or it may not be clean. These stores are more inconsistent.”Bean has a favorite saying: “I bet on the jockey not the horse.” The mere existence of a business doesn’t enable it to be successful, he adds. “I believe if you own a coin laundry and don’t honor and respect your customers in every way, you’re not doing your job.”Bean suggests starting with the floor. “The largest perceptual item in the store is the floor. The floor pattern, consistency and cleanliness tells you all about the store. Next, you have the condition of the ceiling, then the light pattern. You must have a properly lit store with no burned-out bulbs.“Keep those machines clean. You don’t want to see yellow top loaders. The entire store is a perceptual experience for customers. They are going to be in the store for two hours, they will notice what is wrong”The exterior is very significant, including the nature and even the fonts of the sign, he says. “The sign is a very powerful marketing tool. Automatic doors can be helpful and having an awning is good.”A nice interior paint job should help, and don’t forget interior signage. “This signage enables people to understand your laundry from top to bottom, where to buy stuff, how the machines work, etc.”The operator who has the full aesthetic package will do more business than the other operators, he believes. “We draw customers who tell us that they bypass other stores because my store is more appealing. Customers want a degree of comfort.”Will offering customers an attractive store deter vandalism? “People respect laundries that respect people. If the owner doesn’t respect his store, why should the people respect it? Respectable laundries are contagious; people go there and respect them as well. Since these people designate a laundry as their laundry, they will not do anything to take away from the comfort level that it provides.”YOU MUST DO SOMETHINGChuck Kersten, Washington Automated Inc., Wilsonville, Ore., says he’s picky when it comes to evaluating coin laundries.“I like well-lit stores, I don’t like to see the lids down on machines and I like to see the attendants clean machines after they are used,” Kersten says. As far as the stores he sees in Washington and Oregon, he says it’s a mixed bag in terms of overall appearance.He believes the owners, in most cases, could be doing more to keep the stores spruced up. “But you have to take into consideration that in a coastal area, it’s pretty laid back in many ways.”Keep in mind that the exterior is part of the customer’s first impression of your store, he says. As far as the interior look goes, Kersten prefers the neutral side of colors. “I also like plenty of window space, especially in unattended stores, so people can look in. If you have things like lint all over the floor, you will drive the people away.”Kersten’s philosophy is actually rather simple: “You must do something; don’t just expect to pick up the money.”IT’S ABOUT CUSTOMER SERVICE“In New York, there are a lot of pocket stores, shotgun stores, whatever you want to call them,” says Gus Dudderar, Wascomat Distributors Inc., Inwood, N.Y. “They have a row of washers on one side and a row of dryers on the other side.”What does it take to get the customers to notice your store? “You have to have a decent amount of lighting. Who wants to go into a dark, dingy store? You’re coming to the store to make your clothes clean. Bright and clean is a nice place to spend two hours every couple of weeks.” He even suggests using energy-saving neon lights.“Some of the older stores are using new paint, new seating, etc. The megastores are bigger attractions with plenty of machines, but sprucing up helps old stores compete. Big box stores can sometimes lack the personal touch. You can do battle with a short sword; it’s a customer service business.”If you combine good lighting with new ceiling tile, it can make a huge difference. “Whether you know it or not, people are focusing on the brightness. So when you look up, it’s nice to see new tiles. When you look down, the walls are next. Keep them freshly painted. I also like to see a nicely kept bulletin board. Have the attendants clean the folding tables before the customers use them. Some people even have the attendants clean the interior of the machines before customers use them.”If you want the passers-by to notice your business, think “red.” “Red is a selling color, it catches your eye. I like brightly colored neon lights advertising a service. People do judge a book by its cover. If you drive by three stores, and if one guy has nice, bright exterior coloring and clean windows, which one are you going to try?”Dudderar says a poor exterior sign makes people wonder how good the coin laundry really is. “The sign is your opening statement.”Dudderar believes that operators who shy away from amenities risk creating an impersonal store.Other things to consider are automatic doors and air conditioning. “Air conditioning is a big plus. If you have air conditioning, use it before it gets too hot in the store.”Dudderar also advises operators with air conditioning to have enough make-up air. “If you don’t, you suck up all your air conditioning in the back of the dryers.”He believes that the better you keep the store, the more people will respect it. He realizes that in a “tougher” neighborhood it’s harder to maintain a store. He recalls the Watts riot in New York. “In the heart of the riot area was a store that was well kept. During the riot, the customers stood outside it to defend it from the local rioters. The customers told the rioters that they could burn down the liquor store, but they weren’t going to burn down the laundry.“If that doesn’t tell you the value of keeping a nice store, what would?To read Part III of this article, click here. 

About the author

Paul Partyka

American Coin-Op

Paul Partyka was editor of American Coin-Op from 1997 through May 2011.

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